HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Susquehanna River is both beautiful and deeply scarred. An ancient body of water believed to have existed during the time of Pangea, environmentalists say the river’s modern day status is nothing short of distressed.
“The Susquehanna River is the lifeblood of the valley,” said Harry Campbell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Harrisburg office. “It provides a vital role to our economy and to our quality of life.”
Campbell and fellow CBF members led a party of about 20 paddlers downriver Friday morning from Fort Hunter to West Fairview. Among them were the respective leaders of both the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The goal was to “have fun” according to CBF guides, but also to share an experience with like-minded parties who don’t always work directly with each other.
“I want my grandchildren to experience what I experienced, when I could go out on the river in an evening and catch (and release) a hundred bass,” said John Arway, PFBC Executive Director. “They weren’t all lunkers, but they were a hundred bass, and it was an absolute joy to go out and fish in the river.”
According to Arway, data gathered by PFBC since the 1980’s shows a gradual decline in river health. At one time, the Susquehanna was considered a “world class small mouth bass fishery,” he said. “And then in 2005, something happened. And we’re not quite sure what, but we had a major fish kill of young bass. Those young-of-the-year bass just didn’t survive. We haven’t had a good spawn ever since.”
In the shallow Susquehanna, various forms of pollution are easily spotted on the river bottom, including glass bottles, aluminum cans and old tires. The larger reason behind the demise of water quality is likely invisible, in the form of agricultural and other forms of chemical runoff.
“This is a type of algae that actually is formed in our water bodies due to excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous,” explains Campbell, holding up a green mucous-like substance pulled from the river’s edge. “And this algae actually consumes oxygen in the water. That leads to either stress or disease, or ultimately death of the things that live in the water.”
There are positive findings. In the distance, turtles rest on rocks and several species of birds make dramatic splash take-offs from the water’s surface.
“Conservation-wise, the Susquehanna is one of the most significant rivers in the United States,” says PA DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “Its been largely saved from a lot of industrial use, because it is shallow. Its not like some river systems that have barges and big industrial developments. So, it still provides a very natural corridor coming through the heart of Pennsylvania.”
There are projects in which the agencies have teamed up for previously, including a current effort to add forest buffers to the banks of the river and its tributaries. The goal is to prevent further damaging runoff from entering directly into the river, as well as provide cooling shade for fish, including bass, that nest seasonally close to the water’s edge.
Whether further partnerships between these groups with similar goals will be formed remains to be seen. What was proven is that they can come together when nature calls.
“This river,” said Campbell. “If you experience it, you will hopefully want to then become interested in protecting it.”